"What everyone's excited about here is the fact that we're all hearing this differently, and it doesn't feel ambiguous,” Virginia Tech linguist, Abby Walker says in response to the viral Yanny or Laurel audio clip.

Walker, an assistant professor and co-director of the Speech Lab at Virginia Tech, noted that the clip is synthesized speech.

“There are lots of unnatural things going on, but it almost looks like there are two files on top of each other. At first I thought someone had intentionally made a weird file to mess with people, but apparently is just a bad automatic synthesis from vocabulary.com,” she said.

Quoting Walker

“There is always ambiguity in the signal, and there are lots of studies, including my own, showing how different types of context affect what word or sound people hear. Contexts like: do you think it's a woman or a man speaking? What shape is the person making with their mouth? Are you sitting in a car or in a lab? Are you thinking about Australia or New Zealand? etc.”

“What everyone's excited about here is the fact that we're all hearing this differently, and it doesn't feel ambiguous. Depending on  their ears or hearing strategy, or the quality of the equipment they’re listening through, different people are being more influenced more by lower or higher frequency information”.

Background: Yesterday social media influencer Cloe Feldman posted a sound clip on her Instagram story which is beginning to take the internet by storm. Much like the blue dress phenomena in 2015, when people looked at the same image and saw different colors, in this sound clip some hear the words Yanny or Laurel.

About Walker

Walker is an assistant professor and co-director of the Speech Lab at Virginia Tech. She researches sociolinguistics, phonetics, dialectal variation, language cognition, language change. Read her full bio here.

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